Sure, the Panthers have 33 games remaining in this season, but Monday was all but a must-win if this team hopes to make a serious run at the playoffs.
Looking at Erik Gudbranson in the hushed visitors’ locker room at Madison Square Garden, slumped over in his stall in full dress, told the story of how this one didn’t go as planned.
No, the Panthers didn’t get a win they desperately needed Monday as the Rangers scored three in the third period for a 6-3 win.
Florida has lost seven of its past eight games as that postseason light continues to dim. The Rangers now lead the Panthers in the playoff race by 10 points.
New York has won five in a row against the Panthers and has outscored them 11-5 in its two wins this year.
“It doesn’t feel like the end of the year,” said Dave Bolland, who had a goal and an assist.
“It’s no fun losing, but it’s not the end of the year. There’s always another game. We have another one [Tuesday], and we’ll be ready to play.”
Things don’t go a team’s way during a long losing stretch, and that certainly was the case for the Panthers on Monday.
Two of New York’s goals went off of the Panthers as the redirected pucks went past Roberto Luongo.
Mark Staal gave the Rangers a 3-1 lead in the second period when his shot went off Sean Bergenheim; Dan Boyle scored the game-winner with 11:50 left in the third when his shot went off Willie Mitchell and past Luongo.
“We wanted to win the game, get to within six points and get back in the race,” said coach Gerard Gallant, whose team wraps up this three-game New York trip (0-2) Tuesday against the Islanders.
“It’s real disappointing to lose. I don’t worry about the past, we played some good games. We did again [Monday night]; we just let too many pucks in. We’re finding ways to lose games and earlier we were finding ways to win.”
After scoring the opening goal on a nice play by Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers watched the Rangers take a 3-1 lead midway through the second.
Florida battled back, however, with Bolland batting in a puck to make it 3-2 before Brandon Pirri tied it with his fourth goal in the past five games.
“We didn’t play a bad game, we were on them in the second and that’s why we came back,” Jonathan Huberdeau said.
“We needed to play that way for the whole 60 minutes. We’ve lost some games here, but we have to look ahead, find some positives. We have to start this [Tuesday]. We don’t want to lose like this, we need more consistency. We know we’re a good team.”
New York controlled much of the third and got two on Luongo pretty early on in the proceedings to end it. Rick Nash picked up his second of the night — his 31st of the season, tied for the NHL lead — with 1:53 remaining into an empty net.
“It’s a tough loss,” Nick Bjugstad said. “We needed that one. We need to draw something up. We’re coming down to the wire now.”
GOODBYE, LONG ISLAND
The Panthers play their final regular-season game at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, on Tuesday.
The Islanders will be leaving their Long Island home after this season and will begin play at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center next season.
The Panthers have plenty of Islanders fingerprints on the organization as Bill Torrey — the architect of New York’s four Stanley Cup titles in the 1980s — was Florida’s first team president. Denis Potvin, captain of those Islanders teams, is Florida’s TV analyst.
Both Torrey and Potvin will attend Tuesday’s game.
The Panthers have won 19 of 43 games on Long Island since 1993.